A manipulating person may try to use various methods in order to get what they want from you, from guilting you to preying on your kindness. If you know someone who’s manipulative, you may need to know how to interact with them. Be calm and don’t feel obligated to help them or do what they want you to do. Be firm and assertive when you disagree with them. Set firm limits and spend less (or no) time with them if the relationship feels imbalanced.
A manipulator may try to get a rise out of you or have you respond emotionally instead of rationally. When speaking with a manipulator, stay calm and in control. Don’t get swept up by the moment or taken advantage of because you are kind. Take some deep breaths to help you feel calm in your thinking and in your body.
For example, if you feel rushed in responding to the person, remember that you don’t have to answer right away. Take some moments to think it over so you don’t make a decision quickly, even if they want you to. You always have the option to step away from the situation and delay decisions.
You can also try grounding techniques to help you stay rational while you’re feeling emotional. For example, choose a color and find it in the room, or concentrate on what you’re feeling in your body, such as tension in your leg muscles.
Say no firmly.
You have the right to say no and not feel guilty. You also have the right to put your own priorities first. Stand your ground when you say no. Make sure the person knows that once you say no, you mean and it there’s no budging you.
For example, say, “I’m not available to you tonight” or, “I’m not willing to respond to that.”
If they push you, say, “I’ve already told you my decision and I will not change it. Please stop asking.”
Assert yourself and be heard.
Make sure you get a say in what happens and that you make your voice heard. If you need to say something, don’t let them interrupt you or talk over you. Use “I” statements to communicate how you feel and what you’re thinking. You should feel like you have the option to say no or share your opinion and still be respected for your decision.
For example, if they are trying to get you to agree with them, say, “I disagree” or “I’d like you to stop asking me now.”
Dealing with a manipulator can be emotionally exhausting, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself. If you’re feeling stressed out after an interaction or you feel drained from your exchanges, take some time to give to yourself. Practice deep breathing to bring a sense of calm to your mind and body. If you’re feeling stressed, do some meditation or yoga. Make some time for fun so that you don’t let any negative feelings ruin your day.
Talk to a friend about the situation. Even if there’s nothing they can do to help, it can still be beneficial to talk it over and vent a bit.
Go for a walk in nature to clear your head.
Recognize signs of a manipulator.
A manipulator intentionally creates an imbalance of power and exploits the victim for their own agenda. They may let you talk first so that they can find holes in what you’re saying or twist your words. This person might lie or make obvious excuses for their behavior, particularly blaming you for ‘making’ them do something. A manipulative person will often be judgmental and critical of you. They might make you feel guilty when they’re actually at fault.
Manipulators share a few common characteristics:
They know how to detect your weaknesses.
They use your weaknesses against you.
They often convince you to give up something of yourself in order to serve their self-centered interests.
Once a manipulator succeeds in taking advantage of you, they will likely repeat the violation until you put a stop to the exploitation.
For example, the person might say, “Well, if you had made dinner for me, I wouldn’t be in a bad mood!”
The silent treatment is a common manipulative tactic for someone trying to get their way.
Talk about your interactions.
Especially if the manipulator is someone you talk to regularly or work with, it might be beneficial to talk about the behavior. Make it clear that you don’t like them treating you that way. You can also say what you’d like instead.
For example, if you’re on a project and the person is trying to manipulate you to do something their way, say, “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way. I’m capable of making a decision on my own.”
If the person is manipulating you to buy something for them, say, “It’s not acceptable to talk to me that way. You can make a request if you’d like, but guilting me into buying something won’t work.”
Ignore guilt trips.
Recognize if the person is using guilt as a way to control you or to get you to do something you don’t want to do. Try putting their statements back onto them for self-reflection.
For example, the person may say, “You’re never there for me when I need you.” Simply say back, “That’s not true, and it makes me feel like you don’t appreciate me when I help you.” Point out their manipulation by showing that their statements are false.
Point out their inequality.
Some manipulative people tend to ask much of others and give little in return. If this sounds like someone you know, start by turning things around. Ask them if their request seems fair or if they would do something like that for someone else.
For example, say, “Does this seem reasonable to you?” or, “Are you asking me or telling me?”
Set firm limits.
Be clear in your limits with the person. A manipulative person may try to push your boundaries to get what they want. Don’t budge after you say no or when you agree (or disagree) to something. Stay firm by setting time limits and sticking to them.
You don’t have to provide an explanation or defense of your decision. There is no need to justify your wants.
For example, say, “I’m willing to help you for one hour, but I can’t help you for more time than that.”
Limit your interactions.
If you know somebody who’s manipulative, it might be best to limit your time and conversations with them. Keep conversations brief and don’t go into any controversial territory. If they tend to gossip or talk about other people, listen but don’t respond. Your words might be used against you.
If a manipulative person asks your opinion about something you’re not comfortable sharing, don’t answer. Say, “I don’t know” or, “I’ll think about that.”
Disconnect from the person if they cause you harm.
If you feel like a manipulative person causes more harm than good in your life, it might be time to say goodbye. Friendships should be mutual, and if you feel like your relationship is no good, end it. You can either formally break up or fade out of their life.
If you formally break up, send an email or tell them face-to-face that you no longer want them in your life. Say, “This isn’t good for me and I’d prefer it if we weren’t friends.”
It’s trickier if the person is a family member. You can choose to interact with them less and let them know you will practice firm boundaries.
If you’ve never learned to set good boundaries, then doing so can take some practice. Value yourself and your needs, and keep working to form healthy boundaries for yourself.